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Biggest dairy competition in Africa celebrates 185th year

What do you get when you put your five senses, 945 dairy products, 83 dairy producers, a temperature of 18 degrees Celcius and 84 judges together under one roof? The biggest dairy competition in Africa – the Qualité judging of the South African Dairy Championships, taking place on Thursday 22 February 2018, at GrandWest in Cape Town. The championships, the oldest in Africa, has been presented by Agri-Expo since 1834 and celebrates its 185th year of existence this year.

A growing industry

The competition is a logistical masterpiece – this year 945 products, the most ever, were entered. There are 10 categories that include more than 100 classes for end products in the processing line of the dairy industry. The categories are cheese, butter, yoghurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, cultured and flavoured milk, dairy deserts, dairy dips, fresh and UHT milk (that was added last year), and cream (created as a new category this year). Not bad for a 185th year old who as a youngster only included imitations of Dutch and English cheeses.

“Although this is the oldest dairy championships in Africa, we keep up with the needs of the industry through regular consultations,” says Johan Ehlers, Chief Executive Officer of Agri-Expo “The championships is supported wholeheartedly by the industry, with 83 big and small manufacturers entering this year, of which 15 for the first time. Previous participants entered products in other classes, which indicates growth in product development of the existing manufacturers.”

From international experts to foodies

Products are transported from all over the country, as well as from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, to Cape Town in the week of the competition, with great caution due to cold chain challenges. Thereafter it takes several hours to package products anonymously for the blind evaluation. On the day of the Qualité judging preparations start early morning to get everything ready to meet the strict requirements for the judging of a dairy competition of this magnitude. The Market Hall at GrandWest is transformed into what can be described as one huge fridge – a room of 1200 square meters where the temperature must be held constant at 18 degrees Celcius to ensure optimum quality of products during judging.

The team of judges has a very high level of expertise and resort under the expert guidance of chief judge and well-known international dairy judge, Kobus Mulder. The championships is one of the only in the world that uses five judges per category to achieve a more accurate result. The judges’ comments are shared with participants with the aim to improve product quality, encourage innovation and promote excellence in the dairy industry.

The championships makes provision for continuity by giving younger judges the opportunity to participate. Some are former participants in the prestigeous Burgundy Cheese Makers Exchange Programme, a bilateral agreement between the Western Cape Government and the Regional Government of Burgundy, which was co-ordinated by Agri-Expo. These former students today hold senior positions in the industry and plough their expertise back in this manner.

In addition to industry experts and trained sensory evaluators, well-known chefs, food personalities and journalists are invited to join in the judging process. This year’s competition was a first for celebrity chef and food author Marlene van der Westhuizen, who declared it was “utterly exciting to experience so many South African dairy products of quality together as a whole.”

The dairy lover benefits too

The competition does not only have a significant impact on the dairy industry; it also benefits the consumer standing in front of the fridge with the almost impossible task of choosing the best dairy product – do you base your choice on price, brand, packaging, prior tasting experiences, all of the preceding or just a random decision? Thanks to the Qualité judging of the SA Dairy Championships the guess work is taken out of the equation. It is as easy as looking out for the Qualité and SA Champion stickers that are proudly placed on qualifying products in retail shops.

According to Ehlers, the ultimate aim of the championships is to promote excellence in the dairy industry. “The Qualité mark is recognised by the industry as the only mark of excellence for dairy products in South Africa. The competition has become the benchmark for producers to measure themselves against each other. The public can thus rely on the Qualité mark of excellence as an honest and accessible tool to ensure they can enjoy the best dairy products on offer in South Africa,” Ehlers says.

The SA Champions (the top products in the 106 championship classes), Qualité awards (only awarded to products of exceptional quality) and Product of the Year (allocated by a panel of five specialists) will be announced at the prestigeous Agri-Expo Qualité Awards Dinner on Friday 23 March 2018 at GrandWest in Cape Town. The Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) and their publishing platform AgriConnect is a partner of this year’s SA Dairy Championships. For more information, visit www.cheesesa.co.za or www.agriexpo.co.za 

Source – Isabeau Botha, Corporate Communication Manager, Agri-Expo


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